Published on June 17, 2016

















“I can’t believe I’M being bullied!” Karen* said to me as she wiped away her tears. “I am a capable, caring person who does my job well. I have a perfect record of 23 years. How can this be happening to me? I’ve done nothing wrong.”

As a therapist, I have helped many people who have experienced bullying at work. I also have had an experience with workplace bullying. When I am talking with my clients who were bullied; they all describe having feelings of shock, being overwhelmed and feeling helpless.

One of the greatest myths is that bullying occurs to those who exhibit low self-esteem or who may be a shy introvert. This is not true. In my experience; all of my clients are highly professional, clever, articulate people. They are highly successful executives, doctors, team leaders with decades of work history behind them.

The STATS about bullying*

There is a 1 in 2 chance that staff aged 46+ are likely to become a bully ‘target’.

‘Targets’ of workplace bullies have identifiable traits including being ‘skilled’ and ‘hard working’. These traits were followed closely by ‘truthful’ (66.6%), ‘very competent’ (66.6%), ‘intelligent’ (61.1%), ‘professional’ (55.5%), and ‘ethical’ (55.5%).
Workplace bullies are predominately female and don’t always act alone.
There is an ‘active’ bully in 66.6% of workplaces – and they are more likely to be a boss
Workplace bullying increases stress levels at work in 9 out of 10 staff
7 out of 10 leave their job due to workplace bullying.
4 out of 5 bully targets suffer depression and sleeping problems after bullying
1 out of 2 report workplace bullying, but 9 out of 10 say the result isn’t good
The cost of bullying is in the millions. For example; the annual bill to taxpayers for bullying, harassment and “occupational violence” in the public service in Australia is now approaching $80 million.

Years ago when I had my own experience, I spent six months staring at the wall, crying an ocean of tears, and writing letters to try to make a difference. I felt overwhelmed and so very sad that my life had taken such an unexpected turn. I learnt a lot about myself and discovered parts of my character that I did not know existed. Afterwards I began the process of healing and recovery. It took time and eventually I did find a new version of my life.

As I took those steps to heal myself and as I have helped my clients to heal after bullying; I have discovered some key steps that you may also find helpful.

1. Understand that bullying can sneak up on you

Bullying behaviour can begin in quite a subtle way. It can, therefore, be easy to doubt your own feelings about what is happening. Many clients say to me; “At first, I thought I imagined it!”

When something happens like bullying, we can initially go into a form of shock or numbness. This is the mind and body’s natural way of protecting you. It is often not until you are well and truly immersed into the experience of being bullied that you ‘wake up” and realise, “Goodness I AM being bullied here!”

2. Create a CARE Team including your doctor, therapist, life coach and your partner

Never underestimate the power of a strong support network. Ideally, this is a blend of both professionals and family and friends.

It is important that you tell your doctor about any stress that you may be feeling at work. We know that if you are being bullied, then you will experience your distress on both a psychological and physical level. You are more likely for example to have anxiety and depression. Bullying can affect your cardiovascular health as well. Your local doctor will monitor how you are feeling physically and mentally. They can also refer you to an Accredited Mental Health Care Social Worker or Psychologist for therapy.

Your family and friends can be there to help on a practical level as well. Making some meals, helping with extra child care and supporting you at appointments are all simple ways to help that can make a big difference. They can also be great sources of comfort and remind you that you had a life before the bullying commenced.

3. Understand that “the system” is still finding its way with bullying.

One of the most challenging parts of my experience was my disappointment that the beloved system that I had been a part of for many years appeared to be failing me. I was a devoted employee and I loved the structure of my workplace. I strangely enjoy writing policies (I’m a writer so I enjoy it in any context ).

And so when I had my own experience of bullying I dutifully looked up the policy and followed it. My dismay was profound when I realised that the responses outlined in the policy did not address the issue very well at all.

Looking back I can see that bullying is a relatively new concept. And so just as a baby needs to learn to walk; so our system will take time to find its way to a better, stronger, more efficient and certainly more empathic way of responding to bullying. I now don’t blame the people in the roles who were attempting to administer these policies. I do believe my frustration with the system doubled the distress I felt.

When I support my current clients to understand that they are dealing with a young, ineffective system, this structural perspective allows them to release any disappointment they feel that “the system” was not “there for them”. This perspective reduces their suffering and creates more freedom.

4. Create a life story record of your career so far

If you are being bullied it is understandable that you can lose all sense of connection to many aspects of your reality. If we consider that research shows that targets of bullying are most usually people who would be described as ‘skilled’, ‘hard working’, ‘truthful’, ‘very competent’, ‘intelligent’, ‘professional’ and ‘ethical’ – then people who are described in this way are usually people who have long term solid careers with a positive work history.

When you are being criticised for your work, challenged in the workplace or intimidated; then it is natural to feel a lot of selfdoubt.

When I can see this is happening with one of my clients; I encourage them to create a life story record of their career to date. This may be a written story, a series of dot points or a collage of images that evoke a feeling that they felt in each previous position held. I do this to help them remain connected to their professional strengths, experiences and expertise. I use this technique both when someone is still exposed to the bullying as well as afterwards once they are safe. Creating a life story record of your career so far helps to reconnect them with the truth of who they are as professionals and as people.

5. Consider leaving your job.

My clients’ stories are filled with examples where the only way they ended the bullying was to leave. Some left without ever reporting the bullying. Others reported it and then left after they felt they were not making much progress.

One client has remained in her role, and the person who was bullying her has been moved to another location.

Seven out of 10 people leave their job due to workplace bullying. Sometimes the only way to stop the bullying is to leave and that’s ok. You have not failed. You are just choosing a healthier option. The most significant proviso I would place on this point is to be strategic and ensure that you are financially secure before you leave or leave with another job to go to.

1.Take the time you need to heal
In my fantasy world, once I left my workplace where I was being bullied; I then retreated to my seaside hideaway with my family as I gently nurtured my mind and body back to a state of good health.

In reality – ho hum – I needed to continue earning and so on to the next workplace I had to go. If you are like me – then I would invite you to find little pockets of time where you can nurture your mind, body and soul. Simplicity is key here. Walking, eating nourishing food, any form of relaxation, sleep, listening to soothing music, and walking barefoot on the sand are all recommended. Reading a nice book and writing a journal are also important.

2. It may get worse before it gets better

One of the greatest misunderstandings people have is that they think that once they are out of the bullying situation that they will feel instantly better. The truth is that it is wonderful that you are now safe and yes you will feel better however often there is a ‘fall out’ period once you are safe.

To understand this think about the war veterans who “held it together” until they arrived home on safe soil and THEN their PTSD symptoms emerged. It is all about the brains response to a threatening situation. When your brain perceives a threat – it goes into survivor mode. It uses this same technique when you are being bullied. And it is not until you are away from that threatening situation that your mind and body can relax. It is in that moment of the collective “ahhhhhh” that all the emotions, thoughts and physical distress that you have been holding onto are released.

This can come through in the form of anxiety, depression, physical illness, intrusive thoughts and a sense of foreboding about your future. Awareness is key here.

Now you know that this is to be expected; if this is your experience you can simply label it and then seek the help you need to address the symptoms. Many of my clients feel as though they are “going crazy” and they feel frustrated and question “Why they are feeling this way now when they are finally safe? “ Having this knowledge about the way the body works means you can work with your mind and body as it processes what has just happened.

3. Restore your confidence in your work practice:

Another surprise that I was not expecting after being bullied was the extreme selfdoubt that stayed with me whenever I was at work. As I carried out the duties of my new position; I found I was second guessing myself every step of the way. Where I was previously confident in my work skills; I would check and recheck my work.

If this happens to you, first of all know it is normal. Many of my clients feel a significant sensitivity when completing tasks that were the subject of any bullying. For example Brenda’s * manager used report writing to bully. She would ask her to unnecessarily rewrite reports over and over. When she moved onto her next job, every time she would try to write a report she did so with extreme anxiety. This is most common and it if happens to you; take it to your care team and ask for help.

4. Continue with your CARE Team including your doctor, therapist, life coach and your partner: Out of all my clients; the ones who recover well are the ones who work holistically across all areas of their life. They don’t do this alone. They surround themselves with a care team.

In the recovery phase; monitoring your physical health with your doctor is really important. The stress of being bullied takes a toll on your physical health and attending to your body through healthy eating, body movement is highly recommended. Regular check ups with your doctor to monitor your health is the only way to ensure you are managing any symptoms if they arise.

Finding a good therapist/coach is also important as it provides a professional to support you with your mental health. I highly recommend that you ensure that the therapist you attend holds an understanding of the real impact of bullying so that they can adequately support you as you step through the recovery process.

Some people find acupuncture, a naturopath, homeopath or a personal trainer as all helpful additions to their care team. The list of treatment and practitioners is endless. Remember this is your recovery and everyone has a different way that will work for them. It is ok to take your time to find your way and build a care team that works for you.

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